November 27, 2013

Berliners Bike

Dutch bikes and other types of practical bikes for transportation are the most common to be seen in Berlin. Several bike shops in Berlin specialize in Dutch bikes. However, this photo collection perhaps over-represents the Dutch bike contingent a bit, simply because they are more interesting to photograph. Although fewer in numbers, distance commuters dressed in bike-specific garb can also be spotted in Berlin, especially if you're out in the early morning hours. Like their American counterparts, these creatures wear bright colors, spandex, clipless shoes, and nearly always a helmet. Only a small minority of the rest of the cycling population wears a helmet.

We found that Berliners on bikes are much more likely to obey traffic laws than Madisonians, specifically in terms of stopping for traffic lights. While bicyclists may act more predictably, so do Berliner motorists, who seem to be on the lookout for bicyclists when stopped at an intersection and waiting to turn onto another street. A number of times I was pleasantly surprised to see a motorist about to cross the bike lane before making a right hand turn, but then come to a stop, look over his right hand shoulder, and wait for me or other bicyclists to pass before crossing the bike lane. - It’s a level of bike awareness among motorists we were unaccustomed to in Madison. Also, what’s strange to us is that there does not seem to be a look of annoyance or impatience on these drivers’ faces, even though they are often delayed by cyclists.
When overtaking other bicyclists, it is not common in Berlin to give a warning. It took a few times of being surprised by a biker passing within about a foot with no warning to be ready for this possibility. It is advised to ride on the right hand side of the bike path/lane in a straight line, as you see other Berliners doing.

While many aspects of Berlin bike culture seem to fit the German stereotype of orderly behavior, the amount of sidewalk riding then comes as a surprise. Although the sidewalk space is typically fairly wide, it did seem a bit chaotic for bicyclists to be weaving around pedestrians. Bicyclists will take the sidewalk if the adjacent street space is too busy or it is simply more convenient to ride on the sidewalk, such as to avoid a one-way street. Also, parents accompanying small children on bikes typically take the sidewalk over the street.

November 18, 2013

Berlin Bike Infrastructure

Bike infrastructure in Berlin has some different features to that of the US. First, cycle tracks (bike paths) separated from traffic and placed next to the sidewalk are a common feature. Yet, bikes are not always well separated from traffic. For instance, motor vehicles, the tram, and bikes share the same space in the Boxhagener Street (was part of my daily bike commute). In this environment, cars quickly accelerate to pass around bicyclists, which can be a bit intimidating.
There are bike turn lanes and turn-specific signals.
Although pavement paint is not used everywhere, the color red designates space for bicycles. 

November 14, 2013

Our Berlin Bikes

Peter and I spent the month of October 2013 in Berlin, a very bike-friendly city. Soon after we arrived, we identified MietRadMitte as the first bike rental shop to try to find our bikes for the month. The shop’s website advertised Gazelles for rent with a slogan that would translate as “Elegance on two wheels.” We imagined riding around town on swanky black Gazelles like so many other Berliners.
When we arrived at the small basement-level shop, we were presented with maroon-colored Gazelles for us to rent at a reasonable price. Yet, these maroon Gazelles were not of the same high-quality standard as the ubiquitous black Gazelles. The rental bikes were not as solid, well-built or smooth-riding as one would expect from the Gazelle brand, but they still served their purpose as our main means of transportation and were no embarrassment to ride. The fact that they were used to the point of being a bit rickety just added some character - like a pair of well-worn jeans.
I commuted from our sublet apartment in Friederichshain to my daily German class at the Goethe Institut in Mitte (center of the city), about three miles away. Dutch bikes and my Fjallraven backpack, which I found to be a common item in Berlin, allowed us to better blend into the city’s population and experience the Berliner everyday. 

After five weeks in the saddle of the maroon Gazelle, it was bittersweet to say "tschüss."